Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

The Nats Youth Movement is here

21 comments

James Wood continues a big youth push in 2024. Photo Nationals ST 2024

I’m not the first one to notice this, but the Nats management has basically gotten fed up with the lack of productivity of its veterans and 1yr/FA/trade bait players, and has made a slew of moves that have turned this team into what has to be the youngest in the majors right now. Gone/demoted are Robles, Senzel, Rosario, and Meneses. In are Yepez, Lipscomb, Young, and Wood, and they seem like they’re here to stay. Next up is probably Gallo and his .174 BA and probably Corbin once we get a healthy guy off the DL, and god knows why Nunez is still here (he’s got ONE HIT all year). Winker and Thomas produce, but they’re more valuable for who they can bring back in trade versus what they give a sub .500 team in 2024. but i digress.

Here’s our current optimal lineup, with age as of this writing and salary (thanks to the Big Board and Cots for the figures). I’m assuming that a lot of these guys are at the MLB minimum, which is $740k for this year

  • C: Ruiz, 25, $6.3M
  • 1B: Yepez, 26, $740k
  • 2B: Garcia, 24, 1.9M
  • SS: Abrams, 23, 752k
  • 3B: Lipscomb, 24, 740k
  • LF: Wood, 21, 740k
  • CF: Young, 24, 740k
  • RF: Thomas, 28, $5.4M
  • DH: Winker, 30, $2M

That’s an average of exactly 25yrs for the lineup. Four guys at or near the league minimum, total payroll for these nine is just $19.3M, or an average of $2.1 each. Thomas’ salary will eventually be replaced by Crews’ MLB min salary, and maybe an eventual addition of House makes it lower too.

How about the rotation? Here’s our current rotation

  • Corbin, 34, $35M
  • Gore, 25, $749k
  • Parker, 24, $740k
  • Irvin, 27, $745k
  • Herz, 23, $740k

From an optimal 2024 stand point, we’re replacing Corbin and Herz with:

  • Williams, 32, $7M
  • Gray, 26, $757k

At least until Williams is traded, by which point cross fingers you replace his $7M with:

  • Cavalli, 25, $740k.

Imagine having your entire rotation be at MLB minimum and an average age of 24. That’d be amazing.

What’s really amazing about it is the financial flexibility it gives the team to buy talent at positions where it makes the most sense, when they need it. Do we think Yepez is the long term solution at 1B? Probably not, not when you can get a big bopper on the FA market for $10M. What if Grey or Cavalli doesn’t come back? We’ll need a starter but can afford to get one. Or, you wait for the likes of Morales (1B) and maybe someone like Pinckney (corner of/DH) to come up and home-grow those guys too.

This team is getting to be fun to watch again. Its “our guys” up there now. A slew of these players were drafted and developed by us (Garcia, Lipscomb, Young, Parker, Irvin, Cavalli). A slew more were prospects we specifically added in trade, setting ourselves up for this exact moment (Ruiz, Abrams, Wood, Gore, and Grey). that’s what the last few years have been about, and more is on the way (Crews, Hassell, Lile maybe, Morales, etc. Susana just got promoted, Sykora looks great so far).

It’s beginning to look good for this team and its future for sure.

Written by Todd Boss

July 7th, 2024 at 9:30 pm

Posted in Nats in General

21 Responses to 'The Nats Youth Movement is here'

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  1. Great stuff Todd.

    We spent years talking about the bad draft and development of the Nats.
    Well, those people are gone and we now have a staff the equal of the Rays, which is saying something.

    Mark L

    8 Jul 24 at 8:18 am

  2. For me, it’s hard to overstate how much more interesting it is to watch someone like Lipscomb at 3B than it is to watch Senzel. Even if their results end up exactly the same, it’s simply more fulfilling to see Lipscomb get there than Senzel. And I have nothing in particular against Senzel–but he’s not getting ABs on the next Nats playoff team and Lipscomb might. That makes a difference. And I will be a happy person if I never see Menesses or Gallo take another AB for the Nats again.

    One thought I had over the weekend: if your future starting OF is Wood in LF, Young in CF, and Crews in RF, then you (presumably) have three OFs who can play CF capably. Shouldn’t this affect your roster construction in a positive way? Most teams carry two OFs on the bench, with one of them someone who is capable of covering CF defensively on a long-term basis if there’s an injury. Such a person usually can’t hit. But for the Nats, if Young gets hurt, then Crews (probably) or Wood slides over to CF. This suggests to me that the Nats ought to fill out their OF bench spots with bat-over-glove guys, who are also better PH candidates. A positive (albeit small) cascade effect.

    Derek

    8 Jul 24 at 11:12 am

  3. It really is incredible. Crews up by OD 2025 and House in for Lipscomb a few weeks later locks down all but 3 of the 13 offensive roster spots for around $17M. Those three spots are 1B, DH and one bench bat (after Lipscomb, Vargas and Millas/Adams). I’d love to sign both Soto and Walker, but honestly as long as we sign 1 big FA bat, I’m going to begin the season with a lot of optimism.

    For the rotation, Gore hits arb1, but the rest are all on or near the minimum. You can see the team rolling with Gore, Irvin, Parker, Herz and Cavalli and having the whole Opening Day rotation for less than $10M, but I hope they sign a FA ace and push Parker, Herz and Cavalli into a competition for SP5.

    And to agree with your last couple sentences, the plan barely mentions our prospects in the pipeline. Presumably at least 1 or 2 those folks will push their way up the depth chart like Young and Parker have, and a few more will be valuable trade chips. There’s just a ton of value in the system right now and another long window starting next year seems plausible to me.

    SMS

    8 Jul 24 at 2:33 pm

  4. One downside to the timing of Williams’s injury is that I’d now be shocked if he’s tradable for pretty much anything. I mean, the last report that I saw (6/28) was that he hadn’t even started a throwing program, much less getting ready for a rehab assignment.

    Gallo is in the same untradable boat thanks to his hamstring injury (and, well, his 43% whiff rate). Yepez will get his chance while Gallo, who also has not even started a rehab assignment, works back. I will note that, while he was playing, Gallo had an argument as being the best defensive 1b in MLB.

    Corbin is almost certainly going to be in the rotation the rest of the season. With Gray’s elbow a serious question mark, Cavalli in “mystery hold” (his rehab work was interrupted by the “flu” in late June and we haven’t seen from him since), and Herz just sent back to AAA (most likely just for a break and to keep his innings down) I’m not sure who is going to be the #5 starter this week. They called up Adon to replace Herz, but my guess is taht he’s just there as a long man, maybe a spot starter in a bullpen game. But if we’re trying to figure out who the 5th starter is WITH Corbin around, there’s little imminent danger that he’s going to be pushed to the #6 (out of the rotation) spot.

    John C.

    8 Jul 24 at 3:18 pm

  5. Derek: great point about all three players playing CF capably. If Young continues to produce, he seems like the most likely to stay in CF, with crews in RF and Wood in LF. But absolutely, your point makes sense. I’ve sensed that the Nats maangement actively pursues players now with positional flexibility, and our OFs are the same.

    Btw, i was looking at rookie stats today and did you know that Young right now is 2nd amongst all rookie position players in bWAR generated at 2.7? That projects to nearly a 5-win player! For a rookie, and for a guy who NOBODY thought was a prospect.
    https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/majors/2024-rookies.shtml

    You want to know how you win pennants, and its when you find valuable players who weren’t 1st round talents who contribute nearly as much as your bonus babies and 8-figure free agents.

    Todd Boss

    8 Jul 24 at 6:03 pm

  6. @JohnC: i think, unfortunately, you’re right about Corbin. At least he’s been decent lately. But yeah .. .inside of two weeks we’ve gone from Gray/Cavalli being back soon to … maybe not back this year. That means we’ve gone from a Corbin release/Williams trade scenario to … the status quo the rest of the way.

    Williams’ injury is a f*cking dagger. A top-10 era starter going to a pennant race team buys a significant prospect. That’s just a massive loss of materiel we stood to obtain.

    Todd Boss

    8 Jul 24 at 6:06 pm

  7. Todd, Young’s 2.7 bWAR is for his career; it’s 2.1 for this season. But even if you take his slightly lower fWAR (1.8), you’re talking about a 4 win player as a rookie*. But as a player whose value is mostly defense and baserunning he’s going to be under the radar for most fans. You have to watch the games to appreciate what Young brings to the game.

    *Although boy howdy, is Young’s rookie status a near thing. According to the MLB.com Glossary, a player is considered a rookie until (in relevant part) the player exceeds 130 at bats (Young had 107 at bats, 121 plate appearances) or 45 days on the active roster. Young was called up on 8/22/23 and the season ended 10/01/23 – a total of 40 days.

    John C.

    8 Jul 24 at 11:01 pm

  8. Young bwar: Wow, if that’s the case (2.1 this season vs 2.7 career), then this baseball-reference link is SUPER misleading. I did not bother to look at his career versus this link. The whole point of this link was to show “2024 rookies” so I just assumed the WAR figure was for this season.

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/majors/2024-rookies.shtml

    I tell you what’s really important about Young: he’s a 7th round pick. Parker is a 5th round pick. irvin is a 4th round pick. These guys are not 1st round, multi-million dollar draft picks; they’re guys who were picked after hundreds of other guys went. OUR team found them, drafted them, developed them. When was the last time we had a 7th round pick work out, ever?

    Here’s our draft tracker. Go check out the entire history of 7th round picks. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Qd5DS9GlmkQOEh_zGhOvlhHK0EegqY1uJB4mLGmRBaY/edit?usp=sharing

    Prior to Young, the absolute most successful 7th round pick this team has ever had would be Jake Noll or Jackson Tetreauilt. They’re the only other two 7th rounders in the history of our organization who even made it to the majors, and I’ll wager Young already has more WAR than them combined.

    Todd Boss

    9 Jul 24 at 8:42 am

  9. I was going by his player page:

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/y/youngja03.shtml

    But that’s just me being pedantic. We are in complete accord that Young, Irvin, and Parker represent real progress in the Nats’ drafting and player development processes. Poking around on B-R I noticed that, of the 88 players taken in rounds 3-5 of the 2020 draft, as a 5th round pick (153ed overall) Parker is THIRD in bWAR with only one player taken before him (Spencer Strider in the 4th round) and one after him (Bryce Elder) with a higher total. That’s GREAT value for the pick.

    John C.

    9 Jul 24 at 12:39 pm

  10. The most important point about the affordability of the Nats’ roster is that they have massive flexibility to go after the biggest of free agents. They could sign Soto and Burnes and still have funds left over for mid-level guys a lot better than Senzel and Gallo. Whether it’s those two guys or not, they need an ace and a big bat or two.

    I hope they’ve done enough to convince free agents that they can be competitive. I think they have, particularly with the good young core. And frankly, there’s so much mediocrity in the National League right now that it wouldn’t take much to at least get solidly into wild card contention.

    If Crews and House finish strong, I could see not jumping on the biggest of bats. But I don’t see Gore as an ace right now. He may still become one, maybe Cavalli has it in him (which I still think is a stretch). With Cavalli and Gray still coming off significant injuries (and fingers crossed that Gray won’t need surgery), I think they need to add a high-end starter. The Irvin and Parker development are certainly big positives, though, similar to when the Nats found unexpected gold in Roark.

    And why not go after Soto? By all accounts he loved this organization, so he certainly would be willing to give it a look when others might not. At the same time, the Nats likely are in a Werth-like situation where they might need a slight overpay to goose the proceedings. If Mark Lerner can still find his checkbook (the evidence from the last couple of seasons leaves that in question), go in big from the start.

    KW

    9 Jul 24 at 1:10 pm

  11. That’s a really great point, Todd. And it’s even more stark than you say.

    I was looking at this a couple of weeks ago and what Irvin, Parker and Young are contributing is incredible, and a welcome sea change from what we’ve seen in the previous decade.

    If you look at the 200+ players drafted and signed from 2009 to 2021 and ignore the 6 taken in the first 16 picks, here are the players with more than 1.5 WAR over their rookie contracts by both FG and BR: Ray (11.6 FG, 8.9 BR), Pivetta (10.7, 9.1), Luzardo (7.4, 7.0 and projected for ~5 more), Dunning (5.9, 4.9 and projected for ~3 more), MAT (4.1, 2.7), and Goodwin (2.8, 1.5). Until these three guys came along, that’s it.

    Irvin and Young are already even-ish with MAT and will likely at least tie the pitchers at the top of the list. Parker is already even with Goodwin, and should at least get up to where Dunning is now. 3 of 7 most successful draft picks the team has ever made all coming up at the same time. It’s fantastic, and so needed. Imagine how despondent we’d be about Gray and Cavalli’s setbacks if these guys weren’t stepping up.

    I included WAR after trades or waiver pickups but ignored WAR generated after they hit FA (including minor league FA) – which would add in Fedde, Karns and Perkins to around where Young and Irvin are and pull Voth even with Parker. Only Fedde has a chance to keep pace with our guys, and even he clearly can’t be considered a draft win for the Nats.

    I also chose the cutoff specifically to keep Giolito and 11 WAR out of it. Ahead of that it’s House (and his “0 WAR”) at 11th and Storen (4-5 WAR, but that’s weird for relievers) at 10th before we get to Rendon, Harper and Stras. If you think that’s artificial, you can add those guys back to the list and it becomes more like 3 of the 12 best picks. Still great.

    SMS

    9 Jul 24 at 1:20 pm

  12. Young is a difficult dude to “properly” value. His wRC+ is only 87, with an 89 for OPS+. That’s well below replacement level. His 20 SBs in 80 games doesn’t scream Billy Hamilton, although Young seems to be a better hitter than slap-and-dash Billy. Young also doesn’t walk nearly enough. There’s no doubt that his defense is elite level, and that’s accounting for a lot of his WAR.

    Young is a great story, and no doubt a great return on a 7th-round pick. But my wager is that whenever Crews comes up, Crews will be in center. He’ll be flanked by Wood and Thomas, with Young on the bench. And longer term, they’ll hope for someone from among Lile/Hassell/Pinckney/Green/Vaquero to emerge before Thomas is a free agent after next season.

    Of course an alternative is to move Thomas to DH and keep Young on the field, at least until another OF with a bigger bat shows up to force the issue.

    Young reminds me of those folk heros from the last rebuild: T-Mo, Lombo, “Shark” Bernadina, Lannan, et al. They were all fun to watch play, and they had their moments. But the rising tide of the franchise eventually left them behind.

    KW

    9 Jul 24 at 1:29 pm

  13. Of the unexpected developers, I’m the biggest believer in Irvin. I think he’s legit. I want to believe in Parker. Both have made significant progress by limiting walks. Parker in particular has always had great K/9 numbers. He just needed to be more consistent in the zone.

    I agree with John C. that Trevor Williams likely is untradeable. That’s part of the reason I was pushing to trade him early — before he got hurt or turned into a pumpkin. Oh well. The question I would raise now is whether to flip 180 degrees and try to extend Williams for a couple of seasons. He’ll turn 33 in April. He’ll likely want “starter” money, but 2/$24M or 3/$30M would seem to be his ballpark. Would he give the Nats “enough” on the starter front to not have to go after an “ace”? I don’t know. Someone like Burnes or Cole (if he opts out) is going to want a lot of years. Do the Corbin and Stras contracts make the Nats hesitant to swim in those waters again? A couple of bridge years from a vet like Williams would help get them to Susana/Sykora/Lara/Bennett territory.

    KW

    9 Jul 24 at 1:41 pm

  14. For those with Athletic subscriptions, here’s KLaw’s final “big board” top 100 for the draft:

    https://www.nytimes.com/athletic/5622935/2024/07/09/mlb-draft-2024-top-100-prospects-final/

    He’s quite high on Montgomery (#4), a little low on Caglianone (#8), and way low on Christian Moore (#37). He also has catcher Caleb Lomavita, who some have mentioned mid-1st round, at #47, which could put him in play for the Nats in the 2d if he falls that far.

    Some of his general comments:

    “Nothing has happened in the last seven weeks to change my mind — this is a bad MLB draft class, in many different ways, but however you shake it, it’s thinner up top and through the next few rounds than a typical draft class, let alone the outstanding group we had in 2023.

    “This is my last major update to the Big Board, although I may make minor changes if I hear anything significant between now and the draft. By the middle of the second round, which is around pick 55, the class has thinned out substantially, notably on the college side where the safety of the back-end starter or the quality utility infielder is largely absent.

    “I also think this is a poor year to try to shave a few million with your first pick to go well over slot with several later selections.”

    Interesting comment on Konnor Griffin, who often has been linked to the Nats: “The history of high school hitters signed out of Mississippi is very poor; Austin Riley is now the all-time WAR leader in that category at 19.0 WAR (as of mid-May), with a very high failure rate because the quality of competition in the state is so bad.”

    KW

    9 Jul 24 at 2:42 pm

  15. @KW – What do you mean by a wRC+ of 87 being well below replacement? It’s below league average but combined with all the other aspects of Young’s game, he’s way way above replacement.

    I’m actually not sure what replacement means if you isolate one part of a player’s value. Acuna had 9 WAR by FG last year, but was a below average defender (-7.8 Def). Would you say that he’s below replacement in the field? It’s literally true; I’m sure Atlanta has a minor leaguer who could play better defense. But the combined package would have created a ton fewer wins.

    Young is the same thing. Could Crews or Thomas or even Winker create more value with the bat? Absolutely. Could they create more value overall? Crews maybe, but not the others. (And, importantly, maybe not Crews. 3.5 WAR/600 wouldn’t be a terrible outcome for Crews at all. Maybe his 40th percentile?)

    Young is providing more value than Thomas, even if you look at it from when Thomas come back from injury. Yes, Lane’s wRC+ over those 7 weeks is almost 40 points higher, but Young’s defense is enough better to more than outweigh that.

    The case for Thomas over Young requires us to believe that Lane has improved (he’s around a 100 wRC+ vs righties over this span after being around 90 last year and an abysmal -2 in 62 PAs to start the year) and that Young’s defense will regress to just pretty good, neither of which is I think a likely median projection going forward.

    If I were Rizzo, I’d be looking to get value for Lane in a trade. If I can’t, I make Thomas the primary DH when Crews is up (so mid-Aug probably and then next year). I’d still give him a day a week in RF so the rookies can have occasional days off. I might even let him play a little 2nd against some left handed starters, but that might be too clever by half and end up a very short lived experiment.

    SMS

    9 Jul 24 at 2:46 pm

  16. I would not sign Trevor Williams for any amount of money. He’s done the Jeckyll and Hyde thing his whole career: terrible year followed by good year. He’s a 4.50 FIP pitcher in 1000 career innings. If he didn’t have the history of being good one year and bad the next, you might think that there’s something sustainable about his performance this year. His 2024 BB% is low, but it’s been similarly low in prior years (both good and bad ones). I’m not ready to take a position on whether the Nats should ride with the kids in the rotation, buy someone for the back end, or spend big and try to get an ace. My strong view is that, if they try to buy someone for the back end of the rotation, then they should find a target who’s not Trevor Williams.

    As for Young, the defense and baserunning are so good that you can live with a WRC+ in the 90 range. If any of those things slips–defense or baserunning is worse, hitting dips well below 90 WRC+–then I think you move him to a bench role. Whether Young can continue to hit in that range, I dunno. But I’d keep him in the lineup until he convinces me he’s more of an 80 WRC+ guy than a 90 WRC+ guy.

    Derek

    9 Jul 24 at 2:56 pm

  17. Jacob Young is ALREADY the most successful 7th round pick we’ve ever had as a franchise 🙂 Only two other 7th rounders we’ve ever picked since 2005 have even had MLB time (Noll and Tetreault) and Young’s WAR already eclipses them.

    Todd Boss

    9 Jul 24 at 3:02 pm

  18. Another interesting note on deep-player development: Brad Lord.

    BA just did a mid-season update (which i’ll post about soon) and they added Lord. Its the first time any scouting pundit has mentioned Lord. He was an 18th round draft pick in 2022, a senior draftee out of U South Florida and i have him as being a reliever in college. Now he’s in the AAA rotation. That’s patently amazing. You can count on one hand practically the number of double digit drafted players that have made the majors in the last 20 years for this team.

    Todd Boss

    9 Jul 24 at 4:39 pm

  19. Derek — I tend to agree about re-signing Williams. I was one (among several of us) who spent the offseason saying that we couldn’t let this guy be a starter again. Then he has a miraculous turnaround.

    Two caveats: one is that we don’t (and can’t) know the long-term impact of whatever special sauce has gotten into the pitching staff this season (the Doolittle Effect?). Maybe whatever Williams has figured out will be something that stays figured out this time. Maybe it won’t. The other caveat is that he’s likely to be available to the Nats at, or slightly below, market value, since he’s figured something out here and presumably feels comfortable. In that case, he may be a better risk than anyone else they could get at that price point. (But of course not if he tanks again.)

    As for Young, I’m not going to jump up and down about defensive value vs. offense. It does make me recall the situation about a decade ago when there was the debate about whether Jason Heyward should get a big contract based on a high WAR number that was heavily tilted toward defense. We know how that one worked out.

    For those looking for a positive comp for Young, here’s one, for age-24 partial seasons in the majors:

    A: .252/.314/.360, 86 OPS+
    J: .262/.320/.325, 89 OPS+

    It should be noted that “A” got traded after that season in a three-team deal that took Adam Eaton to the White Sox, where he flourished to the point that it took a significant package to pry him loose three years later. A good bit of his WAR value before the trade here was based on defense, value that for the most part didn’t hold on Half Street. But he hit .320/.433/.560 in the World Series, so long may the flag fly!

    KW

    9 Jul 24 at 7:18 pm

  20. Re-signing Williams?? No way. I have zero confidence he can repeat what he’s done this year, even if we have magic super special sauce coming out of Doolittle’s eyes. He’s going to parlay his sub 3.00 ERA into an 8 figure deal for someone and If we’re going to buy a starter, i’d rather buy someone closer to a #2 versus someone who’s ceiling heading into this season was a #5.

    Young and defensive value. It is an inarguable part of his WAR, and it’s one of those parts of the modern sport that you have to accept and trust the stats. It also will eventually make Young expendable. If you can stick a capable CF (Wood or Crews? hassell?) into CF and have that person produce at a 110 wrc clip while providing adequate defense, suddenly that’s an incredibly valuable person. Anytime you can get major production out of a C, SS, or CF .. that’s found gold. Its why Mookie Betts, when he moves from RF to SS, immediately doubles his already elevated value … that moves allows the team to put another bat into the lineup at RF, and its one of the reasons the Dodgers are in first place by a mile.

    Todd Boss

    10 Jul 24 at 10:06 am

  21. I’ve always been amazed at what incredible disparity exists among MLB players when it comes to their salaries. I was talking to a friend of mine last night who played MLB for 10 years and did pretty well, but not as well as a lot of others. We often think of MLB guys as a group of people who have all “made it”, but in reality there are so many who are just hanging on, trying to tip the situation into their favor with a few tweaks that can bump their batting average up enough to allow them to stay relevant and try to get a contract that will take the pressure off them. My buddy mentioned that these guys often feel like chess pieces.

    There is so much strategy by team owners, including the Nationals, that goes into getting a good set of players out on the field who can win games, attract an audience, and cost as little as possible.

    Richard Robbins

    17 Jul 24 at 1:03 pm

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